Grand Springs and Views

The power goes out at 5am and Dad wakes up to keep breathing while I wonder what kind of “why did the chicken cross the road” dream I was running in. Dad gives going back to sleep a good half-hour effort before it’s time to start the day.

I’ll talk with Caleb on his morning commute while Dad writes about the type of people who will be out exploring this beautiful park with us. Dad uses the time in the car together to talk about authenticity, how awesome my mom was, and the fact that people hide behind their exterior personas instead of pursuing mental improvement.

Dad knows that I underutilize my potential but also wonders why I don’t spill my feelings and show my truth like the guy pushing his 300lb mom up a hill in a wheelchair to see a geyser. Perhaps one day Dad will give me the opportunity to accompany him as he slows down and cover him in words of care.

We spend an hour admiring the steamy and colorful Grand Prismatic Spring, being held captive by its beauty while others huff a sigh of disappointment that reality isn’t matching their internet expectations. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying Dad’s quiet contemplation while thinking of all the overlook hikes I can do when I come back.

There are too many people at Roaring Mountain (to hear the namesake) when we pass at 930am so we’ll continue to Blacktail Pond to enjoy the 30 seconds reprieve from cars before taking a half-mile detour to see a lone petrified Redwood over 800 miles away from family to escape the mass logging that started in the 1850s.

Near Slough Creek will be our first bison sighting of the trip, this one away from the other males in rut as not all mating stories require the son to fight the father in myth or the military. Dad has brought binoculars so that in watching one falcon eat, hop, and spread its wings I can realize what all the bird-watching fuss is about.

What an experience to watch 2,000 lb bulls charge each other after giving their best breathy and guttural threat that sounds more like a phone-sex operator whispering over a field into the ears of the many listening prospective mothers. Meanwhile, the 2.5-month-old calves are nursing while watching reproduction lessons that will be used in 3-6 years.

People aren’t the only ones interested in watching the mating habits of another species as we are joined by a group of ground squirrels. Being the largest land mammal in North America (over the moose and polar bear) comes with the perks of public fornication with an audience, something humans gave up so that the non-alpha males would have a chance.

We turn around at Tower-Roosevelt because the road to Canyon Village is closed so we’ll have to backtrack on the westside of the park to get there so we can see West Thumb on our way back to the Inn for our last night in the park. We enjoy a short walk along the Gibbon River before a stop for disappointing burgers – no bacon on his and added ketchup on mine.

We get rain between Hayden Valley and Lake Village but arrive at a dried-up version of West Thumb Geyser Basin that’s still lovely. We get more rain on the 18 miles back to the Inn and with the temperature down to 57° F Dad is in a driving mood and we return to Grand Prismatic Spring for an evening look; still steamy, multi-hued, and beautiful.

Dinner at the Inn has a two-hour wait so after calling Caleb I’ll make a run to the car in the downpour and put on Dad’s raincoat to ensure his sandwich is dry upon delivery. I’ll sit with him for 45 minutes and acknowledge how lucky I am, and how I’d be just as happy in a tent, to be here. We look forward to falling asleep to the sound of pattering rain.

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Hiking in Geyser Country

Dad stays inside to write, thinking it’s overcast, so I’ll venture outside to the Old Faithful Geyser Loop Trail for over half an hour taking in the soft growing sun, the trickling water, and the rising steam. I’ll return to find Dad still typing away but eager to go as he sees the sun coming in the window.

We’ll average a mile an hour on the Upper Geyser Basin Loop Trail and after overhearing families complain about being here (hurry up, I already saw that, I want to go back to the hotel) I tell Dad I understand why he was afraid to have kids. His response was, “I’m afraid to have adults.”

We saunter along the boardwalk, bending down to capture a variant of angles, colors and formations, paths of light, bubbles of hydrogen sulfide (a toxic gas if concentrated), and to follow the flow of water as temperature, seasons, and decades continue to make subtle changes to this taiga biome.

We take a break to rehydrate and energize before driving into the mess of parked cars or those waiting in line and the horde of people willing to get their selfie-of-proof versus the majority that can barely be bothered to stick their arm out the window or their head from the sunroof for a passing photo.

The car says it’s 76* but it feels like 96*. We’ll spend two more hours outside before making our way back to the Inn where Dad will write while I walk to Biscuit Basin. Humans are so far removed from nature and would rather photograph someone eating ice cream than look at the pigment patterns of the paint pots.

The smell of rotten eggs turns some away but for the two loud families with screaming kids following me I can’t get far enough from them to appreciate the sound of nature without running or turning to shush them. It’s much quieter for a moment with this couple as we watch parent Mountain bluebirds feed their five young.

Past Morning Glory Pool and I can really start to hear the park – a dragonfly, a squirrel, a caterpillar, a flock of geese with their wings moving in unison, and nine baby ducks run-swimming for their life as we startle each other. What could’ve been a two-hour hike turned into 3.5 hours, but that was to be expected given our pace of the day.

I told Caleb I’d be back by 9pm (MDT) and Dad heard by dark. Either way, apologies are in order as I’m 25 minutes late because summer in this region is short, vibrant, and powerful. Even if I had turned around sooner I would’ve had to close my eyes and I find that difficult to do even in bed as I dream about tomorrow.

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Through Antelope Country

I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to wake up with the sun as living in San Diego feels like being in the bed of a giant who sleeps in till 10 or 11am each day and leaves its large gray blanket over the sky with just enough horizon showing to know it’s daytime.

There are a dozen deer taking advantage of the beautiful skies and empty roads as we make our way out of Craig and drive the 40 miles north to the Wyoming border. We’ll stop a few times for pictures of antelope, a rocky ridge, an unfinished road, and a construction zone.

I enjoy watching cows trot down a small decline on their morning walk. We see more antelope lying around, jumping, jogging, and definitely getting their picture taken. We stop on the 789 N before I-80 to watch a train, appearing two miles long, pass underneath us.

We were going to take Exit 211 to continue on the 287 N but are redirected by an officer around Rawlins to the bypass. We stop in Jeffrey City, where the population is down from 4,000+ in 1980 with the uranium boom to some 20 people left who appreciate the quiet.

The 135 N will take us to Brown Sugar Coffee Roastery in Riverton for my first sparkling espresso. After that writing break for Dad, we’ll stop at an abandoned hotel in Shoshone with a calendar on the desk from 2005, the year I met my future husband.

Living in the desert helps Dad appreciate water when he sees it so we’ll be stopping at the Boysen Reservoir on the Wind River for a short and steep walk down to see HCB (harmful Cyanobacteria blooms), wildflowers, and the earth-fill dam.

The 120 N delivers us to Meeteetse for a picture at the sign “Where Chiefs Meet” for my chief back home, but we won’t be stopping next to the politicized “Don’t California our Cody” sign on our way to Yellowstone National Park for an extra night.

We check into Old Faithful Inn just after sunset and I’ll go over to the most famous North American geyser for its 1040pm eruption. While I wait, I talk with a couple that drove through Salt Lake City from Los Angeles for their first visit.

If there’s not too many kids making a ruckus you can hear the water flow increase as earth works its melty and explosive science magic that shoots 3500 – 8000 gallons of water almost 200 feet in the air nearly every 90 minutes for up to five minutes.

I’m not the only one feeling the impressive energy surrounding this park but I will learn that I’m of the limited few to show a quiet appreciation for the masterpiece nature has created versus the heavy metal concert families or toddler animosity tantrums.

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A Mountain Road Detour

We work in shifts between loading the car, watching the sunrise, eating breakfast, and grabbing some food from the hotel lobby before stopping to air the tires on our way out of town towards Placerville.

The temperature has dropped to 55° F and we both appreciate the chance to enjoy the weather as we stop along our route for a chance to capture the fog among the dew-covered trees, some of the taller ones looking like q-tips as they reach for the sun.

There’s inspiration to be found in the mundane but there’s also an elegance in finding it in the unexplored. I want to take this feeling and bring it home again to find the excitement and knowledge in the ordinary.

Dad stops to write while I photograph ants and worms. He’ll stop again next to a trail for some tripod shots where he took Katarina, Caroline’s niece, on her visit to America to see backroads and horses.

We’ll stop about every 15 minutes on the 145 N for pictures until our eight-mile roundtrip detour into Telluride, to the trailhead of Bridal Veil Falls – 1.2 miles up with almost 1,000 ft elevation gain. The line of cars and people walking from downtown tell us this is a popular hike. We pass two eight-year-olds testing out their golf clubs on the roadside.

“I thought we’d make good time driving so we could hike,” says Dad, but driving 20mph under the speed limit isn’t helping us. Dad’s worried that I’ll get bored if I’m not out in crowds showing off my tights, duck lips, and headphones.

That anxiety is there because it’s been years since we last saw each other in person and had a chance to contemplate the beauty and natural silence that comes in spare moments gained on the roadside away from civilization, traffic, and internet.

We stop in Ridgway so that Dad can fill out a reference for a former employee while I walk around their farmer’s market full of ceramics, jams, rugs, veggies, beads, bags, spicy cheese that makes me think of Caleb and summer teas for Caroline, but I buy neither.

We stop at the Looney Bean in Montrose for sweets, caffeine, a video call for me, and writing for Dad. He’ll call Caroline before we get on the 65 N, a more winding route towards Craig, with more time for sightings of Yellow-pine chipmunks, an Alpine pika, and a dying fawn.

Sign posted on 13 N: ‘Wildlife zone. Fine doubled 5p-7a Oct 1 – Jun 1.’ There’s some heavy rain as we arrive into Craig, Colorado at 630pm. The hotel we check into has rooms with two doors so that in case of fire you can jump into the pool or out of the window.

A sad dinner will be had at Fiesta Jalisco, a family run place, on recommendation over The Sizzling Pickle across the street. At least that disappointment would’ve come with a cool name.

Out for a walk in the neighborhood and notice the odd distribution of wealth. There are houses with RVs next to trailer homes with new trucks and Thule cargo cases but no sidewalk except an old section behind a shopping center that says no trespassing.

We’re rewarded with a sunset for dessert versus the rain cloud we saw looming that might’ve given us an early soapless shower. Dad tries talking to me in German before remembering that I’m not his usual bilingual travel companion, but I get the gist.

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Just a Piece

We get to see horses on our morning walk and Caleb video calls to show us the electrodes he’s worn since last night that will stay on his head until his last nap (mandatory 15-minute sessions of lying down in a dark room every two hours) this afternoon.

Caroline will take their car to work while we wait at the rental car office for an hour for a car to be available. The seats are moist enough to wet my pants with Clorox and Febreze and the driver’s seat adjustor has to be screwed back in properly before we drive away and get a tire pressure sensor warning and listen to the steering wheel make a weird toy-like sound.

Back to the house to load the car and Dad leaves notes all over the house for Caroline – something as simple as HUGS on the shower door to make her feel loved and let her know he’s thinking about her – at all times.

I will try my first chocolate almond milk shaken espresso from Starbucks and am not disappointed. Our first photo stop of the day will be along Superstition Freeway to capture the green bushes protruding in layers from reddish-brown rock surrounded by a menagerie of clouds, cactus, and charred remains from the recent wildfire in June.

We stop in Globe an hour later but it’s not long before we’re back on the road admiring the blue submarines of clouds held safely within their white fluffy carrier clouds. We’ll continue on the 60 E to Quemado, NM through a day of contrasts – sunny, cloudy, and rainy weather; mountains, cactus, and forest landscapes; and parental, descriptive, and helpful topics of discussion or lecture.

Dad recalls our trip on this same road from ten years ago and though so much has happened in the interim it could almost be yesterday, but we weren’t snacking on dried mangoes and salted cashews then. We are ready for the treasures and memories the road has to share.

Crossing the border causes us to lose an hour of day but Dad already has planned out mileage that we will cover regardless of what distractions or detours we encounter. We drive the 36 N through Zuni Pueblo and see wet dogs roaming the shade, a kid’s Jeep car deep in the muddy water, and a ten-year-old either digging into a future oven or exploring the remains of an old one.

I notice the multiple signs asking that no pictures be taken during religious ceremonies while Dad looks at the dash for a speed limit reminder to find none and has to remember that the key fob doesn’t auto unlock the car so it has to come out of his pocket.

The 602 N will take us to Gallup for our second coffee and when the caffeine doesn’t seem to be kicking in fast enough for Dad, I suggest we listen to his playlist: Sleaford Mods, an English post-punk duo; Kollektiv Turmstrasse, a German minimal-techno duo; and Petite Meller, a French-Israeli pop-jazz singer.

As we approach Shiprock on the 491, there are groups of houses without delineation between the properties, the roads are wide without markings, and there are some nice murals on crumbling buildings. This space feels open, honest, and neighborly.

We cross into Colorado for heavier rain and more lightning than earlier. We check-in to a hotel in Cortez before the storm arrives and chases the kids from the pool. The outside door opens to a short hallway containing four more doors inside. I’ll be impressed with the sheet sandwich (thin blanket between sheets) which is easier and faster to clean and assemble.

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